Preventing the next College of DuPage scandal: Transparency bills seek better online access
New bills aims to deliver on campaign promises of greater government transparency.
In October 2014, news broke that the College of DuPage, Illinois’ second-largest college, had hidden more than $95 million in spending since 2009.
This left many Illinoisans puzzled: At a time when so much information is readily available online, why are government records that can be obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, kept out of the public eye?
House bills 435 and 3087 seek to address this issue. If passed, the laws would require taxing bodies with annual budgets greater than $1 million (for HB 3087) or which cover populations over 5,000 or a school with 500 or more students (for HB 435) to maintain a website that offers taxpayers basic information. That information would include annual budgets; taxes and fees imposed by the unit of local government or school district; contact information for elected and appointed officials; and notice of and materials prepared for regular and emergency meetings.
These bills would lessen the workload of local taxing bodies in delivering information in response to FOIA requests, since the information would already be available online. This would save countless hours of paid staff time.
One transparency bill that failed to make it out of committee on March 10 was HB 3090. Sponsored by state Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, the bill would have addressed the outdated requirement that units of local government post the entire text of public notices in newspapers. The bill would have allowed for units of local government to pay for publication of a link to view public notices online instead.
This bill recognized the reality that most people access information online, and would have also provided financial relief to local governments who currently have to pay to post entire public notices in expensive publications.
Transparency should not just be a campaign talking point; it’s time for Springfield to deliver on election promises and give taxpayers the information necessary to keep their governments accountable.
Image credit: Grant Hutchinson